Q: What are the best sources for applying to receive grants, scholarships and other forms of free college funding?
A: Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, online in early spring of your senior year if you are starting college in the fall. This form is submitted to the government and is used to determine a student's eligibility for federal aid.
The types of federal aid available primarily are Pell grants, federal work study programs and Stafford and Perkins student loans. There are other, more specific federal grants such as the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent grant, and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant.
Some colleges and universities will use the FAFSA form to determine eligibility for their grant and loan programs. The federal government will forward the form to up to 10 schools that you list. However, some schools, usually private institutions, will require students to fill out a CSS Profile form, published by The College Board. This form asks for more specific financial information like the value of a family's home.
Some states use the FAFSA form for their grant and loan programs. Contact each state's education department (FAFSA provides links on its website) to find out what financial aid forms need to be filled out. High school guidance counselors also should have that information.
Other sources for funding include scholarship programs through private organizations. The criteria for these vary. Some are national scholarships that depend on grades or standardized test scores. Others are more specific relating to a hobby or particular group of people, and may ask for an essay or reference letters.
The amount of money these scholarships offer differs widely and can range from a small amount to help pay for books up to thousands of dollars. If you're able to secure a scholarship be aware that some renew each year, while others are one-time awards. Some allow students who have won before to reapply for the next year.
There are several scholarship search engines online, including options from the federal government, The College Board, and FastWeb.com. Check with your parents' employers, your church and any civic organizations for other scholarship opportunities. The local library's reference section also will have a list of private scholarships.
Students should start their scholarship search early because many scholarships have deadlines early in the student's Senior year.
College Board - http://apps.collegeboard.com/cbsearch_ss/welcome.jsp
FAFSA - http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/
Fastweb - http://www.fastweb.com/
Federal website for college students - http://www.students.gov/
Federal government scholarship search - http://studentaid.ed.gov/
State financial aid search - http://tinyurl.com/59u2ys